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OTTAWA — Canada’s energy and mining companies are facing new challenges from first nations that are demanding the right to approve all resource projects on traditional territories and to participate in the revenues.
Saskatchewan Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde on Wednesday called on governments not to approve leases or other exploration rights unless companies can demonstrate they have properly consulted local aboriginal communities. He said resource companies should bring first nations into their planning at the earliest possible stages, and be prepared to treat them as full partners in development.
“We have to be involved in the economy – fully and no longer marginalized,” Mr. Bellegarde said. “Because if we keep talking about self-determination as indigenous peoples, that’s got to be linked to self-sufficiency.”
Spurred by “Idle No More” protests, many of the country’s chiefs met last week with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who committed to work more closely with them on treaty rights and economic development.
Chief Bellegarde is the lead spokesman for the Assembly of First Nations on treaty rights, and his comments echo demands from chiefs and protesters alike that aboriginal people must be given greater control over their traditional territory.
Ottawa has estimated there is $650-billion worth of resource projects that could be undertaken in the next decade, but virtually all of them involve native land claims or treaty rights, and will require companies and governments at the very least to consult and accommodate first nations before shovels can go into the ground.
First nations are increasingly resorting to legal challenges and direct action – such as protests and blockades of railroads and major highways – and some chiefs are threatening to disrupt economic activity to back their demands for a better deal from Canada.
Aboriginal leaders want the federal government to lead provinces and territories toward changes that would provide a share of resource revenues to their communities to finance social and economic development.
“The feds can help drive it in terms of a national strategy working with the premiers and first nations people throughout the different territories and provinces,” Mr. Bellegarde said. “Under treaty, we didn’t cede, surrender or relinquish everything – we agreed to share the land and resources,” he said.
But Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said Ottawa has little role in the discussion of resource revenue sharing since it provinces own resources under Canada’s constitution. And he ruled out any deal to dedicate a share of his province’s substantial resource revenue with first nations.
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